Archive for July, 2009

Road to Capitol rooted in Peace Corps

July 22nd, 2009 by admin

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PCV Chris Hill served in Buea from 1974-74, working with credit unions as an advisor. He is now the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq.

From Politico
By: Anne Schroeder Mullins
July 22, 2009 04:50 AM EST

Before launching their careers on Capitol Hill, some congressional lawmakers got their first taste of mudslinging in a productive way — as volunteers in the U.S. Peace Corps. The program has served as an unlikely farm system for future members of Congress. Sen. Chris Dodd and Reps. Sam Farr, Tom Petri, Mike Honda and Steve Driehaus have all been among its ranks.

And it’s not just elected officials who have served in the Peace Corps before making their way to Washington. Journalist Chris Matthews was in Swaziland from 1968 to 1970, writer Maureen Orth was in Colombia from 1964 to 1966 — the same time as Farr — and current Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill served in Cameroon from 1974 to 1976. (And he thought Africa was tough.)

The Peace Corps, which is hosting an event at the Capitol Visitor Center for staff and interns on Wednesday, gave us a peek at several politicos in their earthy Peace Corps days.

Ambassador Chris Hill
Volunteered in Cameroon (1974-76)

“In one month, I went from being responsible for very little in college to being responsible for the life savings of 6,000 credit union members in Fako Division, Cameroon. The Peace Corps gave me that chance. In many ways, it was the most important job I have ever had.”

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.)
Volunteered in the Dominican Republic (1966-68)

“Over 40 years ago, when I arrived in the Dominican Republic as an English major who spoke almost no Spanish, I was asked a question I’ve been asked a thousand times since: ‘Why did you join the Peace Corps?’ The answer was simple: because an American president asked me to. My experience in the Peace Corps was perhaps the most formidable and richest of my life, and it is why I have spent my life in public service and continue to urge others to serve our great nation.”

Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.)
Volunteered in Colombia (1964-66)

“For two years, I lived amid severe poverty in Medellin, Colombia, helping the poorest of the poor figure out what they wanted from their government and then working with them to get it. I learned firsthand what contributes to poverty, and I’ve worked four decades to defeat it. As my wife said, I’m still a Peace Corps volunteer at heart; I’ve just changed my barrio.”

Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.)
Volunteered in Somalia (1966-67)

Petri’s spokesman shares this story: “Having finished law school, Petri was assigned to bring some order to Somalia’s legal code. Because of the country’s colonial history, some of the laws were in Arabic, some in Italian and some in English. They were numbered, so if you had a copy of law 100, you knew that there were 99 before it.

“Petri went to the custodian of the laws to request a complete copy. He was told that that would be impossible. He returned over the course of several days, sometimes bringing the custodian tea, and gradually obtained a law or two at a time. Eventually, the custodian took him to a room where the laws were kept, bound in twine and totally ignored.”

Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.)
Volunteered in El Salvador (1965-67)

“My time in El Salvador taught me so much. I went into the Corps as a college student shy of graduation with little direction; I emerged with the confidence that my emotional, psychological and physical limits had been pushed, plied and ultimately surpassed. I went into the Corps driven by the shame of my youthful lack of direction; I emerged determined to do something about the pervasive poverty surrounding me. I went into the Corps speaking one language; I emerged speaking another: Spanish, a gift that introduced me to a new world, gave me a new way of understanding new cultures and helped me connect to constituents in California. The Peace Corps got me back to the basics, and I realized that every day is a gift to be used wisely. That gift is what guides me now in Congress.”

Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio)
Volunteered in Senegal (1988-90)

“I lived with a family in a village of 300 people, and she lived with us. When I look at this photo, I think I was much younger and I weigh less, and I have less gray in my beard. The Peace Corps was a fantastic experience. It was probably, with the exception of my marriage and my children, the most important experience in my life. Those 2½ years were very valuable. I had a prototypical Peace Corps experience — I lived in a rural area, and you have a far deeper appreciation for how so many millions of people live life around the world that is so different than ours.”

Driehaus adds: “I like to tease the others — they were all serving the year I was born.”

High school group led by RPCV delivers computers, other items to Cameroon

July 19th, 2009 by bobebill

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In Cameroon: Members of the Cultural Technological Environmental Exchange group and other leaders gather outside the Sultan’s Palace in Foumban, Cameroon.

Posted by Erin Albanese | The Grand Rapids Press July 19, 2009 01:00AM

PARK TOWNSHIP — West Ottawa High School senior Mike Pietrangelo was back in the lab tinkering with computers just days after returning from two weeks spent equipping schools with systems in Bamenda, Cameroon.

Pietrangelo is among 40 students involved in West Ottawa High’s Cultural Technological Environmental Exchange (CTEE) program, and was among seven who visited the African nation last month to install computers. They were accompanied by three West Ottawa High graduates and a computer technician.

While in Cameroon, they watched 20 students graduate from Longla Comprehensive College with computer knowledge that surpasses many of their American counterparts, Pietrangelo said.

It was just one of his motivations to get back to work rebuilding systems.

The CTEE program, started in 1998 by a group of global-minded students, has resulted in the installation of about 2,000 computers in Cameroon.

The effort evolved from a first shipment of 24 computers for a project covering a range of programs including clothing donations, mosquito nets and tree plantings.

Seventy West Ottawa students have visited the country through seven trips.

“It was fun to go over and see how much happiness you can bring people with the things we consider small here,” said Pietrangelo, explaining the joy of giving a new soccer ball to a team of teenagers and toys to an orphanage.

“It’s amazing to see the goods put to use,” said Erick Swihart, a 2005 West Ottawa High graduate who went as a chaperone for his fourth trip to Cameroon with CTEE.

“It’s an incredible experience. The level of gratitude that is shown to all of us is really unparalleled.”

Longla Comprehensive College was the first secondary school in Cameroon to offer computer networking instruction.

Now, more than 30 schools in the country have established labs through CTEE.

This year, the CTEE contingent updated LCC’s lab with 100 Pentium 4 computers and set up the first lab at an elementary school.

The trips are a culmination of many Sunday afternoons spent in a school bus garage rebuilding, refurbishing, cleaning and configuring obsolete machines and packaging them for shipment.

The computers are donated primarily by the West Ottawa school district, Gentex Corp. and Grand Valley State University.

“Possibly the most significant thing that we, as an organization, have learned from the efforts our student body has made over the years is that it doesn’t take the substantial personality of a Oprah Winfrey, or that level of financial involvement, to have a remarkable and significant impact on the lives of children a world away,” said CTEE sponsor Mike Jaeger, who teaches AP biology and environmental issues in public policy.

“This is especially true of involvement in the developing world,” he said.

Jaeger was a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon from 1989 to 1992.

Amanda Burmeister, a 2003 West Ottawa graduate, chaperoned this year’s trip. A highlight for her was assisting the Peace Corps’ agro-forestry program in planting more than 500 trees in a mountain area near Lake Awing.

She said CTEE has had a major influence on her.

“It really inspired me to care about world issues,” Burmeister said. “It deeply affected me.”

PCV Quiltmaking Project

July 9th, 2009 by admin

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PCV Abba Greenleaf reports that she has a growing quilt-making project going in Cameroon. She is serving in Mayo Darle, Adamawa, as a Health Volunteer, and is originally from Iowa City, Iowa. Before joining the Peace Corps, she studied Public Health at George Washington University.

“I started quilting when I met a woman, Mairama, who is located in a village near the Nigerian border. She is an Umbororo woman who has been in Cameroon for about 9 years, since the Umbororo/Mambila conflict that forced her and her family to flee Nigeria. She was looking for a way to make money and so I taught her how to hand quilt. Now we have 9 women hand quilting and 3 piecing (using a machine to put the pieces together).

“Each month we have a meeting where I teach the women about a health topic and they get paid for their work and receive new work. They are learning, (petit a petit), how to be independent in their work, since I will be leaving Cameroon in December of this year. This means I am teaching them about budgeting, cotising money to buy supplies.

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“It has been incredibly exciting to see these women learn the trade, turn it into a beautiful art while at the same time supporting their families. All the quilts are pieced on a machine, then hand quilted. Prices depend on size and the difficulty of the quilt. The smallest quilt usually costs about 15,000 cfa ($30) with the most expensive (large enough to cover a double bed) is usually around $100. All the quilts have pagne, and some are mixed with monotone color fabric to help ease the intensity (pagne is very bright and busy!). As you can see in the pictures, there is also the possibility of using the PC fabric. We chose to mix the fabric with green, yellow and red since those are the national colors. 🙂 However, there are lots of different designs we can try out.

“If people are interested in ordering quilts; the address to use is agreenleafpccam@yahoo.com .

“My village actually just got electricity on the 20th of May, for 4 hours every night, but we are still a long way from Internet!
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RPCV Pat Murphy meets VP Biden in Baghdad

July 7th, 2009 by bobebill

http://www.citizen.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090707/GJNEWS02/707079871/-1/CITNEWS
from the Laconia Citizen, July 7, 2009

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Man with Laconia parents gets to meet vice president during Iraq visit

A Laconia couple is beaming broadly after their son had his picture taken with Vice President Joe Biden during Biden’s visit last week to Iraq.

Warren Patrick Murphy, the son of Peg and Warren Murphy, oversees the U.S. State Department’s Provincial Reconstruction Team in Nineveh Province. He was recently summoned to Baghdad for a meeting with his fellow directors. Biden happened to be at the same venue and later agreed to have his photo taken with some of those attending the meeting.

“I am very proud,” said Warren Murphy, who is a former chairman of the Laconia Planning Board, of his son although he conceded that while his namesake may have voted for Biden last November, he did not.

Patrick Murphy, who will turn 46 later this year, is the eldest of Peg and Warren Murphys’ four children.

“His wanderlust started when he spent his junior year at college at the University of Nice, France, where he met a lot of foreign students from all over the world,” recalled Warren Murphy. “He was particularly intrigued with some African students and when he graduated from the University of Vermont he joined the Peace Corps and was assigned to Cameroon.”

After three years in Africa, the younger Murphy returned to the U.S. and enrolled at the Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies where he earned a master’s degree. Murphy then took the State Department’s Foreign Service exam and passed, leading to postings in China, Guinea, Myanmar, Lesotho and now, Iraq where he oversees a staff of 80.

Murphy began his one-year posting in Iraq a couple of weeks ago. His wife, Kathleen, and their three young children, ages 11, 8 and 6, however, remained back home in Falls Church, Va.

Warren Murphy said he and his wife were “concerned, quite really,” about the dangers that their son faces in Iraq but “he reassured us that security was tight and his office is actually on a U.S. military base just outside Mosul.” The family stays in regular contact via “Skype,” the Internet-based telephone program.

“I’m proud of all of our kids and particularly proud right now of Pat,” who went overseas after graduating with distinction from the National War College, which only a handful of diplomats are invited to attend annually, the father noted.

“He loves that kind of work, he loves that kind of policy stuff, he’s really in his element,” Murphy said of his son’s mission in Iraq, which, so far, is going mostly well.

“He did mention the heat — he’s experienced temperatures up to 115 degrees already — and sandstorms. The sand goes everywhere.”